Posted by Kurt West on Jan 4, 2020 10:32:00 AM
Kurt West
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Managing your upcoming spring hydrant flushing process can be a challenging job, especially if your department still uses a paper-based process or an on-premise software solution instead of a cloud for utilities. 

A hydrant flushing program improves water quality by minimizing build-up of mineral and other sediments, that over time can affect quality and water flows through the pipe. The flushing program also verifies whether hydrants are working properly and available for fire protection.

Cloud for utilities: making hydrant flushing operations easy 

Cloud-based utility management solutions can help water department managers improve critical operations including hydrant flushing, cross-connection inspections, and valve exercising operations. 

More importantly, a cloud for utilities allows you to stay on top of your assets, automate workflows, streamline reporting, and stay compliant.  

Hydrant flushing management problems 

Paper-based systems are a productivity killer, even though they appear to be simple and easy to maintain. They take a lot of time and knowledge to manage. Often, there are just a few employees who “know the system” and have been managing the system for many years -- the manager is happy until a key employee goes on vacation or retires. Paper-based processes require extensive administrative time to manage and file. It is also difficult to maintain data accuracy when having to read handwritten orders and notes.       

“I never have to worry about finding the information I need or that the information will be lost. My data is now just a tap away.” - Director, Buzzards Bay Water District, MA

Disconnected or outdated computer systems

Many municipalities use spreadsheets or database technology to manage their hydrant flushing processes. These systems use less paper, but still cause problems. For instance, they require manually entering work order requests, which is labor intensive and mistake prone. Manually filling in and printing compliance reports is another productivity killer. Often, the biggest problem water department managers encounter is the inability to share or access data, which can all be saved with a cloud for utilities.

Here’s a real-life example from the Robeson County, NC Water Department:

The employees would record their data on a sheet of paper, and then manually enter it into an excel sheet on of two laptops that was located at the main office. The laptops were separated based on upper and lower parts of the county. Once all the information had been manually entered on both computers, the Water Treatment Supervisor would take a thumb drive and save all the inspections. He would then move the inspections to one computer to be able to produce his monthly reports.

Comparing on-premise vs. cloud-based utility solutions 

Understanding how to evaluate different types of IT solutions require managers to have a basic understanding of how utility solutions can be delivered. The first step is understanding the difference between On-Premise and Cloud-Based Utility solutions.  

On-premise solutions are based on computers located within your physical work location. Centralized applications and loaded onto either a centralized server, while other applications are loaded onto individual desktop computers. Municipalities that purchase on-premise software must also pay ongoing maintenance and support fees. When an upgrade to the software comes out, they must pay again. In addition, IT departments are tasked with supporting these on-premise solutions. 

On the other hand, cloud-based utility applications are hosted by a remote server accessible through the internet. The application provider maintains the systems and users access the solution through an internet browser. Clouds for utilities require minimal IT support, which helps minimize the operating cost.

Cloud-based utility solutions offer affordable options for the small to mid-sized water utilities

While large water utilities may be able to allocate manpower and budget resources to supporting on-premise computer systems, these innovations may be ‘out-of-reach’ for smaller, cash-strapped municipalities. Fortunately, cloud-based utility solutions offer affordable alternatives to expensive enterprise-class solutions. 

Software as a service (SaaS) solutions are more affordable

Many cloud-based utility applications are offered as a service (aka Software as a Service, or SaaS). In this model, users pay for using the solution, rather than purchasing the software. 

Since the solution provider maintains the servers, upgrades the software, and provides maintenance, the costs and time needed to maintain cloud-based utility solutions are a fraction of the cost of on-premise solution, as all the costs are included in one price. Typical contract terms for cloud-based utilities range from 12 months to several years. Municipalities can lock in the subscription price as a hedge against future price increases. 

Cloud-based data can be accessed anywhere

Accessibility to data is another benefit of cloud-based utility solutions. Managers, field service employees, executives, and compliance managers can access the application and data from multiple locations, while executives and managers can view reports and analytical ‘dashboards’ for real-time reporting. 

For instance, just like field workers can update work orders in real time, managers or supervisors can access their cloud for utilities and view reports while in the field, eliminating the ‘chained-to-the-desk’ atmosphere.  

“Our (cloud-based management solution) has enabled us to organize, collect, share, and retrieve data like never before. The ability to manage and view assets and generate reports using any device at any location is successful for our operations.” - Water Treatment ORC, Town of Sparta, NC 

Automatic Software Updates

Upgrading software is a major cost factor for on-premise software. IT administrators need to keep track of multiple software products, which are often customized for the customer. The more complex the operation, the more difficult and costly it is to maintain the software.

Clouds for utilities eliminate this problem by automatically applying updates and software fixes as needed. Cloud-based solutions can be customized at any time. Since the users access the solution via an internet browser, the software updates are maintained by the service provider, eliminating the need for internal IT support. 

Increased Workforce Collaboration

Many users agree that the ability to share data and collaborate from any type of computer (i.e. desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone) is one of the greatest benefits of using a cloud for utilities. It streamlines the management of field service operations, frees managers to work in the field and not be ‘chained to the desk’. 

Field service workers and contractors can complete work orders, upload photos and videos, and even electronically sign orders from their mobile device. Cloud-based utility solutions even streamline the audit process. Managers simply give the auditor limited access to the system to view operations history and audit trails.

“Inspection and maintenance programs are no longer dreaded tasks, and when it is time to be inspected by State Officials, you just login and shine.” - Water and Sewer Distribution Superintendent, City of Graham, NC

Security

Data and internet security is a topic of concern for any operations manager. It seems there is a new data-breach or ‘hacking’ incident in the news every day. Maintaining a secure on-premise computer solution is a major burden for IT administrators. Internal networks and servers are subject to the same data breaches as cloud-based systems, but since cloud computing providers serve thousands of customers, they have extensive security procedures in place. 

“I never have to worry about finding the information I need or that the information will be lost. My data is now just a tap away.” - Director, Buzzards Bay Water District, MA

Utility Cloud Makes Operations Management Simplified 

Utility Cloud is a customizable cloud-based operations management solution that improves productivity and streamlines field service maintenance, asset inspection, and compliance reporting for municipalities, investor-owned utilities, and private service companies. The Utility Cloud solution incorporates technology not found in many enterprise operations management systems, including asset visualization and tracking via GIS mapping, SCADA integration, and automated report generation.

Topics: Utility asset management

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